Green Activism in Palestine

Posted on Earth First! Newswire:
Article by Corinne Pinfold / Earth Island Journal

palestine-green

During family Fridays at the Mashjar, parents and children learn about nature together via various fun activities. Photo by Morgan Cooper.

Land is key to the ongoing occupation in Palestine. Wars have been fought over territory and legal battles have spun out for decades over matters as basic as accessing a plot. Despite land being such a major issue, the human cost of occupation means that the environmental cost is forgotten not just by Western outsiders like myself, but also by Palestinians themselves.

The destruction of olive trees has, of course, become almost a symbol of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The cultural significance of olive branches as messages of peace add a metaphorical layer to the trials Palestinian farmers face when their income and heritage is destroyed. (Read the Journal’s 2002 report on this issue here). However, there are many other native plants and wildlife that too, are an integral part of Palestinian history and culture.

While walking in the hills around Ramallah with a group of friends recently, I ran into Saleh Totah, an activist who co-founded Mashjar Juthour, a 2.5 acre arboretum and eco-park on the Thahr al Okda hillside. Totah and his partner, Morgan Cooper, started Mashjar Juthour, which translates roughly as “the Roots Arboretum,” in 2013 as a permaculture education project seeking to re-establish the diverse range of flora that flourished in Palestine years ago, but which has been lost in conflict and in ignorance.

The project is one of many that have cropped up in Palestine in recent years, including rooftop gardens and fish farms, that hope to reconnect the people in this conflict-ridden region with their natural environment and inspire Palestinians to work towards a sustainable future for themselves and their land.

That day, and on a subsequent visit when we helped to clear stones, we heard about the different plants growing in the Mashjar: Palestinian oak with its edible acorns, orchids which are used to make the drink salep, tiny, wild peas which we ate from the pod. Many of Mashjar’s plants have a dual purpose. They make the land itself rich and sustainable while also providing sustenance. Lentils, for example, are grown for food and at the same time return nitrogen to the soil for hungry trees.

The diverse range of plants found in Mashjar Juthour is unusual in Palestine. The hills around the park are filled almost exclusively with olives. There is little room for any other kind of tree to grow.

“People see value only in the olive tree,” says Cooper. “It’s a major source of income, so farmers clear the land of all the other trees in order for the olive trees to live without other trees competing.”

Partly, this is due to the challenge of accessing land. Olives are hardy, and once they reach maturity they can survive with little maintenance. This is a necessity for the many farmers who require permits, rarely granted, to access their land that has been enveloped behind the Israeli barrier wall.  This rationale is understandable, but it means that much of the traditional knowledge in sustainable farming – what we would call permaculture – has been lost. And that loss makes Palestinians more dependent on imports for everything beyond olive oil products.

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Volunteers help build traditional terraces at the arboretum.The Mashjar project aims to use education to reverse Palestinians’ loss of knowledge about the environment and of how to take care of it.

It’s not just farmers with land outside across the wall who are affected. The West Bank itself was divided in 1990s, with the vast majority, about 60 percent, being designated as Area C, under Israeli occupation. On this land, the Palestinian Authority controls only health and educational matters. For every other aspect of life here, Israel is the governing authority.

The problems this causes — whether it’s the lack of protection for Palestinian villagers, unplanned waste disposal that sees settlement sewage tainting Palestinian crops, or withholding of development permits — mean that people are too afraid or too frustrated to connect with the land.

“Area C has compacted the Palestinian alienation from land and it’s so uncommon to see Palestinians picnicking or even hiking,” Cooper says. “We don’t access nature. And we’re losing so much of the knowledge we have about it, without even realizing it, because most of us are totally distracted with the greater struggles of living under occupation.”

The result of this is a shocking lack of environmental awareness, not just among farmers or landowners, but the wider Palestinian community. One obvious indicator is the widespread littering. The road from Ramallah to Mashjar, a winding path through hills lined with old stone huts and terraces of olive trees, would appear Biblical were it not strewn with candy wrappers and energy drink cans.

“It’s a complete lack of awareness we have about the environment and the negative effect we have on it,” Cooper says. The issue is compounded because the road is in Area C, so the Palestinian Authority isn’t allowed to provide waste disposal services, she explains. “Instead it is the responsibility of the [Israeli authorities]. And they simply don’t take that responsibility. So what happens to waste, then?”

The Mashjar project aims to use education to reverse Palestinians’ loss of knowledge about the environment and of how to take care of it.

“The idea is to get our community back to nature, to remind them of the very important relationship we have always had to the environment around us, and especially to bring back the traditional knowledge and natural heritage of Palestine,” Cooper says.

With a small team of mostly volunteers, Cooper and Totah have painstakingly rehabilitated the 2.5 acres of land. The park now boasts 60 species of trees, including native oaks, kaykabs, caroubs, maples, and pines. To get people out of the city and into the wild, Mashjar runs events in its arboretum: workshops, family days, guided walks and one-off events like an astronomy camp.

Cooper hopes that their schemes will encourage environmental stewardship and make food sovereignty part of the Palestinian human rights movement. It seems like their efforts have been bearing some fruit. After they’ve visited the Mashjar, children start to chide each other for littering, Cooper tells me. But, just a couple of acres and limited human resources, are hampering the Mashjar’s ambitions.

“We have a huge vision, but that needs capacity and we just don’t have capacity,” Cooper says. “We have requests for more activities and workshops, for guided walks and camps, but we simply can’t. Further, we’re starting from square one, taking on questions like ‘what is waste’ and ‘why should we care about the environment at all?’ ”

Cooper and Totah are now looking to expand the Mashjar Juthour’s land and get more local educators involved in the project.

Thirteen More People Arrested in Seneca Lake Seven Generations Blockade

From Earth First! Newswire:

photo from We Are Seneca Lake

photo from We Are Seneca Lake

A Seven Generations blockade of a Crestwood fracked gas storage facility in Seneca Lake occurred this morning, resulting in 13 arrests. The same amount of activists were arrested on August 4, ratcheting up this month’s total to at least 26 people.

The arrestees represented students from five different colleges, as well as families, teenagers, and the elderly.

According to We Are Seneca Lake, “A tanker truck was waiting on the side of the road before the We Are Seneca Lake blockade was in place. The truck was later guided into the driveway in front of the blockaders. Blockaders were then told they were being arrested for disorderly conduct.”

A participant in the action, Gabriel Shapiro wrote:

“Today young people and their supporters took a stand for our collective future here in the Finger Lakes. Crestwood wants to turn our region into a storage hub for fracked gas serving the entire Northeast U.S. Their plans put too much at risk. We want to come back and possibly raise children here someday. We don’t want methane, LPG, brine, heavy machinery and the fracking industry to have anything to do with that.

“We are living a different story and it involves locally grown food, world class wine, and a vibrant, self-sustaining economy. We are the Finger Lakes and we are standing together for a different future than Crestwood is presenting us with.”

The We Are Seneca Lake civil disobedience campaign has been ongoing for years, and has led to hundreds of arrests. The campaign has brought public attention to the widespread disapproval of fossil fuels development in the region.

August 10 is Prisoners’ Justice Day: Let’s Bring the BOP’s Plans for a Prison on Mountaintop Removal Site to the Forefront

From Earth First! Journal:

By Panagioti / Prison Ecology Project

August 10 is a day that prisoners have declared Prisoners’ Justice Day. It’s a day to demonstrate solidarity in remembrance of those who have died unnecessarily behind bars—victims of murder, suicide and neglect—at the hands of the police state.

August-10-plants-break-cuffs

 

It started in Canada in 1975 following the death of prisoner Edward Nalon in a solitary unit of Millhaven Maximum Security Prison located in Ontario, and it has remained most recognized in that country. While there has been some success in calling to use this day as a way to bring awareness to the plights of incarcerated people who suffer injustice worldwide, it still hasn’t quite caught on in the U.S. … yet.

[Check out a collection of reflections from Prisoner Justice Day in recent years here, specifically this “open letter to construction workers at prisons” released in tandem with a 2012 call for blockades of work aimed at expanding the Collins Bay and Frontenac prisons.]

But anti-prison activists in the U.S. and abroad, particularly those with an interest in environmental justice, should note that this year’s August 10 is marked by the proposal to build a new federal maximum security prison in the Appalachian mountains of Letcher County in eastern Kentucky, on top of a former mountaintop removal coal mine.

Just this week, after several years of local debate about the economic failures of building prisons on low-income rural areas, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has announced plans to move forward with another prison in a region that has been dubbed Appalachia’s Gulag Archipelago.

Despite the area’s long history of pollution from decades of blasting for coal, politicians like U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers have insisted on piling prisoners into this remote location which is likely to poison prisoners with tainted water. It also happens to be far from any reasonable transit options for family visitation, not to mention being planned on threatened and endangered species habitat of the incredibly biodiverse region.

What to do about the BOP’s Letcher County plan this Aug 10? 

Prisoners’ Justice Day is fast-approaching, but it’s not too late to plan for action. A quick place to start is sending over a letter to the BOP within this 30-day window telling them that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS )is insufficient, as it does not recognize the civil rights that prisoners have to receive environmental justice protections. This is, of course, in addition to the myriad concerns related to perpetuating the racist and classist mass incarceration system by building more prisons to extract poor people from their communities and warehouse them in toxic places.

Also worth noting is that there is a major PR firm called Cardno who is contracted by the BOP to conduct the EIS study. They are likely representing many more of your corporate and state enemies as well. According to their website, “Cardno now has about 8,200 staff working in 300 offices, on projects across more than 100 countries around the world.”  Their corporate offices are located within the following regions:
Australasia    Middle East    UK/Europe
North America    Africa    Asia
Latin America

 

 

The following text provides some additional history on Prisoners Justice Day becoming international day of solidarity with prisoners:

justice4prisoners

In 1983, prisoners in France refused to eat in recognition of August 10th, the following statement would be read on the Paris radio station Frequence-Libre:

Why not have on August 10 an international day of solidarity with our imprisoned brothers and sisters,

For here or elsewhere, prison kills,
Whether it be Nalon in Ontario, Bader or Meinhoff in West Germany,
Claude or Ivan in Switzerland, Bobby Sands in Ireland,
Mirval, Haadjadj, Onno, Youssef or so many others in France,
Whether they are serving 53 years like Alexandre Cotte or 16 years like Youssef,
Whether they are considered political or common prisoners,
PRISON KILLS!

By the mid 1990´s prisoners in parts of Germany, England and the United States would join this day of protest.

The number of issues focused on over twenty-five years has been extensive:

Double Bunking
Youth Incarceration
Safe Tattooing Inside
Special Handling Units
The Wrongfully Convicted
Twenty-five Year Sentences
The Right to Freedom of Speech
The Women Self-defense Review
Abolition of National Parole Board
The Right to Vote in Federal Elections
Decriminalization of Victimless Crime
Health Care Needs of Prisoners With HIV & AIDS
Return to Shorter Sentences with 1/3 Time Off For Good Behaviour
Medical Care and the Same Options for Treatment as Outside Prison
The Integration of Protective Custody prisoners into General Population
Decarceration – Release of Prisoners Who Already Served Their Sentence
Alternatives to Incarceration – the Eventual Abolition of Prisons
The Recognition of Political Prisoners in Canada
Early Intervention Programs for At-Risk Youth
Moratorium on the Building of New Prisons
The Incarceration of Refugee Claimants
The Prisoners´ Right to Unionize
Privatization of Food Services
Needle Exchange Programs
Privatization of Prisons
Involuntary Transfers
Education Programs
Gating of Prisoners

The Right to Recognize August 10th Without Reprisals

PRISONERS’ JUSTICE DAY IS…

…August 10, the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily — victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

…the day when organizations and individuals in the community hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

…the day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison for protecting themselves against their abusers. This makes it obvious that the legal system does not protect women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners.

…is the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Natives, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons. Prisons are the ultimate form of oppression against struggles of recognition and self-determination.

…the day to raise public awareness of the demands made by prisoners to change the criminal justice system and the brutal and inhumane conditions that lead to so many prison deaths.

…the day to oppose prison violence, police violence, and violence against women and children.

…the day to publicize that, in their fight for freedom and equality, the actions of many political prisoners have been criminalized by government. As a result, there are false claims that there are no political prisoners in north american prisons.

…the day to raise public awareness of the economic and social costs of a system of criminal justice which punishes for revenge. If there is ever to be social justice, it will only come about using a model of healing justice, connecting people to the crimes and helping offenders take responsibility for their actions.

…the day to renew the struggle for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment in prison.

…the day to remind people that the criminal justice system and the psychiatric system are mutually reinforcing methods that the state uses to control human beings. There is a lot of brutality by staff committed in the name of treatment. Moreover, many deaths in the psych-prisons remain uninvestigated.

Info on Prisoners’ Justice Day courtesy of PrisonJustice.ca.